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You Say You Want A Revolution: Nice As Fuck at Bowery Ballroom

We’re Nice As Fuck
Wish you good luck!

–Nice As Fuck, “NAF Theme”

It was a nice surprise when a friend sent me a VISA gift card for my birthday. I could finally justify spending money to seeing Nice As Fuck’s most recent show in New York City at Bowery Ballroom. I kept missing NAF perform (at the just closed The Deep End Club or opening for M. Ward). I pinched myself as I hit “confirm payment” thinking about how I would get the chance to see Jenny Lewis for a second time this year, and witness Tennessee Thomas and Erika Forster groove up close. This summer has been oppressively hot in New York, and without One Direction I have had little to look forward to. I was geeked about having the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicians in a totally new dynamic. Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Nice As Fuck, has had an impressive solo career for the last ten years. She came to fame in the music industry in her previous band Rilo Kiley. Tennessee Thomas was a drummer in the rock group The Like. Erika Forster established her name with Au Revoir Simone.

I got off work on August 1 ready for the revolution. I’d spent months scouring the Instagrams of Tennessee Thomas and Jenny Lewis as their friendship led to the formation of the new rock trio. I giddily got excited as Matt Hitt and Alexa Chung popped up around the band. The network of New York models, artists, and performers all coming together in solidarity. Despite waiting to buy a tee and beer, I managed to snag a spot right in front of Jenny Lewis’ mic stand. I’m not kidding when I say I was on top of the keyboard. I figured you don’t let a chance like this go by without grasping it.

Alix Brown DJ’d the first hour of the evening as we waited around NAF’s staging on the floor of the Bowery. The songs set the perfect tone for the evening, even though I will admit, I didn’t recognize a single song. However, I was happy to sip my beer, snap pics of the staging, wonder if Alexa Chung would be at the early show (she was at the late show), and subtly shake my hips to the tunes.

NAF came out a little after 8pm for their first show of the evening at the Bowery. Dressed in black pants, Nice As Fuck black tees, green military jackets, black berets, heavy winged eyeliner with bold lipstick, NAF were a conglomeration of radical 60s counter-culture attire and attitude. The Bernie tee taped to Tennessee’s drum set was a nice touch, a shout out to her advocacy and campaigning for the Senator in his Presidential bid. NAF asks for all those in attendance to unite in a desire to experience connection, love and freedom.

naf

This was the point when it settled in just how close I was going to be to Jenny Lewis during the set. As you can see, without zoom, I felt like I was pretty much in her personal space. But in terms of art, there was a great closeness that developed between artist and audience as the set began. With no barrier, not even a rope, we were a part of their raucous set. It was contained chaos performed with a smirk.

NAF performed “Runaway”, off the new album, first. In the aftermath of Jenny Lewis’ rumored break up with writing partner Jonathan Rice and her move to the East Coast, it’s hard to not read her own departure into the lyrics. The solace Jenny has found alongside Tennessee and Erika is obvious in her stage presence, and her Instagram posts where her smile is infectious, large. All three performers seemed genuinely humbled by the outpouring of love for their set.

Jenny Lewis sang the opening verse of “Cookie Lips” directly to me. As I sought to break eye contact do to the overwhelming feeling of having my favorite singers eyes on me, she sang Oh cookie lips, give me a crumb /Oh cookie lips, are you the one? As Tennessee explained before the song began, “Cookie Lips” is about a lover who gives you enough of the “cookie” to keep you wanting more, but it’s ultimately “crumbs.” A lover who ghosts. I think I just got ghosted by cookie lips / (What a dick). The song is fresh, young. Fun. It’s also catchy as hell.

Universe pulls us together
For tonight
Cookie lips

 

If you want to know who I am? 
Just ask any of my friends

“Higher” was a stand out of the night. The soaring vocals, bass and drums pulsing within the confines of the Bowery. True love never dies / I’m getting higher and higher. Jenny’s stage presence was electric, intense. She was actually lit up. The confidence she has as a performer so clearly comes from years of experience on the road, and it’s hard to look away as she commands everyone to join in the experience. To revel alongside her.

The set drew to a close with “Door” and “Guns,” the two most obvious songs of revolution and power on the album. “Door” has a recurring exclamation of Don’t Close The Door! An insistence that the message of peace and love brings about real unity. “Guns” is a call for us all to put our guns away. Nice As Fuck doesn’t want to be afraid. The album, written this past spring, feels like a direct reaction to the current political climate. As Jenny instructs, the solution is revolution. NAF’s politics cannot be ignored. They don’t want you to be able to look away, misinterpret. Leaving, I felt like over the course of 9 songs I had become closer with the band. I somehow understand their energy, their sound better.  I’m excited to see what they all do with this side project in the future.

I highly suggest checking out this new act if they stop into your area. Join the revolution! You can check out The Deep End Club’s activism blog and even buy your own NAF tee before attending. Let’s all try to be a part of the solution!

Setlist:

Intro – Jem and the Holograms theme
Runaway
Angel
Homerun
Cookie Lips
Higher
Mall Music
Door
Guns
NAF Theme

Send Me Your Magic: Paperwhite Live in DC

I want intimacy in my music. I look for emotion in songs and yank it out with my bare fists, ingesting it into myself. And what is a concert but a way to project music’s intimacy into three dimensions?

While a successful artist — the one with “the X factor”  — can entrance a stadium full of thousands of people, a different challenge presents itself in the smoky back rooms of shady concert venues. An intimate venue calls for an intimate presence: We’re all in on the secret, shared between the back room’s enclosed walls.

In one such back room at the Black Cat (semi-discovered DC dive bar and concert venue), Paperwhite frontwoman Katie Marshall invites us inside her secrets. Throughout her performance, I imagine her standing in front of the gates of the Secret Garden, finger crooked towards us. She deftly breaks the rusted lock and pushes the gates open, hair swinging behind her and catching impossible glints of sunlight, allowing us to see the most intimate parts of her.

Katie occupies all of center stage, constantly reaching out and pulling us into her. She makes eye contact with every audience member in the venue as we crowd closer. Her eyes are at times fierce and passionate, but the warmth — the invitation — never leaves her face. Her bandmates, including brother Ben Marshall, drink in the audience with warmth, too. While they tend more to frame Katie than to draw attention to themselves, they’re happy to do so and bask in the atmosphere of the stage.

Paperwhite’s music is itself an expression of intimacy. Epitomizing dream pop’s ‘80s-synth movement, EPs Escape and Magic reach out to us the same way Katie Marshall does during her performances. We feel hypnotized by airy positivity; our heads nod and our bodies move until we’re all grooving together amidst shimmering electronics. All of Paperwhite’s songs — though particularly ones like “Wanderlust,” “Storm,” and “Magic” — encase us in a longing that eclipses words.

When we experience this three-dimensional performance of intimacy, longing, and shared secrets, we are connected by the synths, the movements, and the words alike. But best of all, Paperwhite’s reaction to us (the audience) is just as awestruck as ours to them. Katie let us into her secrets, and we somehow did the same for her. Just by collectively releasing our inhibitions to enjoy a shared experience, we lowered the barriers between audience and artist. We had as much to give Paperwhite as they had to give us.

The concert ended and Katie talked, took selfies, and signed phone cases, but the audience/artist dynamic had not been restored. We were still equals. We thanked her for her performance, told her she didn’t need to be so surprised that people deeply connected to her work. She thanked us for showing our support, for understanding what she was trying to give us. Our mutual respect and adoration allowed us to share that most intimate experience — the concert — in a way none of us are likely to forget.

I want you to notice/Some moments are rare/Don’t take me for granted/Just take me there
-“Take Me Back”


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

Falling in Love/Lust with The 1975 in Glasgow

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A low drone noise has been radiating from the speakers for the past half an hour. I’ve just downed one vodka tonic and I’m gripping my second. I look up and see the outlines of three rectangles above the stage, three dark boxes waiting to be filled with light. There’s nobody behind the microphone yet.

I didn’t even care about The 1975 six weeks ago. Then “UGH!” came on the radio when I was driving my mum’s car late at night and I almost crashed it into the wall at the end of my parents’ street. I’ve crashed a car once before, on the journey home from kissing a boy who I then fell obsessively in love with for ten years.

Next I saw the video for “UGH!” The section at the beginning before the set is crushed with light felt like taking a deep breath. I saw the clapperboard in front of the camera, saw them all line up in front of the set, then I saw Matty Healy in silhouette, and I waited for him to start singing, and when he started, I was in love. Three minutes of him in what felt like a hundred different outfits, with the set glowing blue and pink and static in the background. I’d never thought about him for a second before then.

It all happened so fast.

It’s 8:45pm and the drone is louder now. I’ve been thinking about this exact minute, this specific pocket of time for weeks. The anticipation I’ve felt about seeing this show has been so intense that it has become physical. The week before I see them I can barely eat and I have to drink to calm my nerves. I keep thinking about the five minutes before they go onstage. If I can’t keep it together when it’s far enough in the future to be abstract, how will I cope when it’s close enough to touch, when the lights go down, when I can hear the ripple of screams from the other side of the crowd? It’s sickening anticipation, it’s wanting them – wanting Matty, specifically – now and forever or just wanting him to never arrive onstage, to leave the country, to get out of my life forever because I can’t handle the possibility of his presence.

The lights go down. The girls at the other side scream. There’s Ross, the bass player, then Adam, the guitarist, then George, the drummer, then a long pause. Then Matty, leather fringe hanging from his arms and corkscrew curls hanging in front of his eyes. First it is “Love Me” and then “UGH!”, no stopping between them; it’s perfect and breathless and there’s no time, there’s no time to intellectualise that this is happening right now, right in front of me. It’s living inside the “UGH!” video for an hour and a half – the same set and a different colour scheme for each song. I feel like the girl in the a-Ha video who dissolves into her television.

Matty’s the centre of attention at all times – of course he is. He’s taking his jacket off, then pulling his cowboy shirt out from his jeans, then unbuttoning it halfway through the show. He walks around the stage with his glass of wine and he’s mesmerizing. He’s half expert sex angel – licking his lips and then throwing his head back during “Robbers” – and half embarrassing cousin at a wedding, addressing us as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ with his thumbs up after every other song, playing up to and then completely shattering the much-discussed image of him as a studied pretender to the rock star throne.

Even when they’re onstage the push and pull of wanting and having doesn’t stop. The moments when Matty disappears and reappears are the most delicious, even more than the time he spends dangling from the edge of the stage screaming with his head between his knees. At the end of “Anobrain,” he climbs up behind drummer George’s drumkit and stands behind him for the end of the song, then he disappears behind the set, and the lights turn to television static. As the band starts to play “Fallingforyou,” their most intimate song, Matty emerges, climbing onto the amp stack, a shadow against the buzzing static behind him. I can’t see him singing the words, he’s a silhouette, but I feel the sense of sexual possibility, the wanting, the longing for someone who might long for you too. Then he leaps to the edge of the stage, back into the light for the best line – “I don’t want to be your friend / I want to kiss your neck.” The song ends with a bass rumble that I can feel crawl up my toes, through my heart and into my lips – the climax of the drone from the beginning of the show. What I’ve been waiting for since I first heard “UGH!” on the radio, since I bought the ticket for the show, since the lights went down at the start. The moment when the anticipation makes way for the actual release.


Claire Biddles is an artist and writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. She makes work about crushes, regional glamour and the relationship between pop culture and real life.

I’m Holding Onto Gold: Jess Glynne’s Debut at Webster Hall

The atmosphere inside Webster Hall on January 20 was buzzing. Interest in Aussie Conrad Sewell’s material was palpable, but it was clear the audience in attendance was waiting for the curly-haired siren Jess Glynne, who took over radio airwaves with the Clean Bandit collaboration “Rather Be” in the summer of 2014.

Much like the British group Years & Years, Jess Glynne’s music is a fusion of pop dance tracks and emotional ballads of empowerment.  The show started with an intro of “Strawberry Fields,” and immediately gained momentum when Jess entered stage left and broke into “Ain’t Got Far to Go.” Hair slicked back into a high ponytail braid, eyeliner thickly embossed on her eyelids, a sleek sleeveless blazer on top of a black bra and pants, Jess was fierce, beguiling. The crowd was loud, hinged on every swing of her hips and sway of her braid.  There was a pulse inside Webster Hall as people clamored to teeter a little closer into Jess’ field of vision.

The smartest decision of the night might have been for Jess to perform  “Rather Be” and her other collaboration with Clean Bandit, “Real Love” early in the evening. “Rather Be,” her first chart-topping U.S. collaboration, was inescapable in the summer of 2014; however, the decision to play the track early allowed Jess to showcase her own independent voice, her own articulate songwriting. “Rather Be” was built for the UK Top 40 and Jess’ voice was able to catapult the song to long-term success. While Jess herself has not yet found large success on U.S. airwaves outside of this hit, she’s still poised for gold. “Rather Be” was pure fun; every concertgoer singing along at the top of their lungs.

We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have traveled land and sea
But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be…

Jess played “Home” followed by “Love Me.” “Rather Be” was a massive single that overtook the entire globe, but Jess’ own music feels far more personal. It’s meant simultaneously for a Friday night pre-game, and for a solemn Tuesday night. Jess manages to write and perform music that is both exuberant and remorseful. She’s a young woman experimenting, searching. There’s sorrow, regret, love. “Love Me” is Jess at her most straightforward, blunt. It’s specific, accusatory. Let’s have a party, the only guest is you / Don’t beat around the bush, we both want to… The entire audience tried on her bluntness for the night, asked for what they wanted. (Well, not me when it came to more space, but you get what I mean.) And I, I know that I’m not wrong / And you, yeah, you are gonna love me, love me… Personally, I long to feel the sense of self-assuredness that she embodied when strutting around the stage singing “Love Me.” Braid whipping around, her clothes utilitarian in nature, Jess wasn’t about making a fuss.

“Gave Me Something” was euphoric. Jess was truly in her element. The concert seemed to finally take shape. Her dance moves freer, her voice deeper. It seemed to me like she finally believed we were all there to see her “holding on to gold.” You gave me something that I didn’t have before / So I’ma give you something / To stop you saying more…

I was excited to hear Jess sing “Why Me,” the song I listen to regularly on the subway. It gets me excited for the day. It’s rummaging, exploring. Why me? / You left me all alone… The beat is in constant friction with the melancholic lyrics. You stole / My happiness from underneath my nose / My insecurities left on the floor… Jess it at her best when calling lovers out for their mistreatment of her, for asking for what she so rightly deserves. Her backup singers flanking her, Jess was reveling in the power of leading us all night.

Toward the end of the set, Glynne covered Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was a bold move by a young English songstress to cover Amy, the most enigmatic and bright shining star of British music to come out in the last ten years (besides, naturally, Adele), but Jess did the song justice.  Her voice was rough, raw. The entire audience frantically searched for their phones, myself included, as we sought to, for a few minutes, potentially recapture Amy’s words under the flash of the stage lights where they were meant to always be.

It felt appropriate that Jess followed her Amy Winehouse cover with the emotional linchpin on I Cry When I Laugh, the heart-wrenching ballad “Take Me Home.” The song is a bruise, exposed and tender. I listen to “Take Me Home,” late at night, underneath the covers, my toes cold, when I want to press down on the hurts of the day, the lingering doubts I don’t voice aloud. It was therapeutic to sing along with Jess, Will you hold me now? / Oh, will you take me home?

The tempo of the concert rose again with the follow up “You Can Find Me.” The conclusion of the concert was drawing near as she followed “No Rights No Wrongs” with the single “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” The latter of the two songs debuted this summer as I was searching for a new job. It was my anthem as I filled out application after application, as my insecurities festered when I left job interview after job interview. The wounds heal and tears dry and cracks they don’t show / So don’t be so hard on yourself, no I missed feeling competent, confident. In my apartment after a long day of anxiety and stress, phone calls with recruiters and HR, I would blast this song. I waited patiently throughout most of the concert for Jess to finally reach her hand out, offer up her own experience to parse. I feel like I’ve been missing me / Was not who I’m supposed to be… All of us in the hall seemed lighter, dancing our cares away. ‘Cause I’m just tired of marching on my ownFor one night, we weren’t. Flanked on all sides by sweaty bodies holding beer and liquor, we were all dancing to the same beat. Jess came back out to do an encore of “Right Here” and “Hold My Hand.” I left Webster Hall with my friend Gretchen on my left, Jess’ lyrics gripping me still.

I’m ready for this, there’s no denying
I’m ready for this…

Setlist:

Strawberry Fields (intro)
Ain’t Got Far to Go
Real Love / Finally / Rather Be
Home
Love Me
Gave Me Something
It Ain’t Right
Why Me
Bad Blood
My Love
Tears Dry on Their Own (Amy Winehouse cover)
Take Me Home
You Can Find Me
No Rights No Wrongs
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Encore:
Right Here
Hold My Hand

Bonus: Jess just released a new music video you should all check out!

Tell Me What It Is You Want: Years & Years’ Confession at Terminal 5

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The minute I got inside Terminal 5 last Wednesday to see Years & Years, past the glimmering chandeliers in the entrance hall contrasted by the grime of the floor, I made my way to the bar. I was present to hear Communion, and I wanted my fill of alcohol. It’d already had been a long week. Though, I will say I was dressed the part for a New York City concert in my Topshop Chelsea boots, leather jacket, and leopard print skirt. Budweiser in hand, I headed to the floor.

The closest I feel these days to something akin to religion is attending concerts. The sense of community amassed as we all stand waiting to hear the lyrics we’ve whispered to ourselves before bed, jammed to in our cars at 5pm in standstill traffic or strutted down the sidewalk to. I love the moment that the album goes from being a personal to collective experience. The clamor of sweaty bodies, spilt (cheap) beer, and glimpses I catch of the band make an album tangible. I was ready for “Eyes Shut” and “Without” to become a live experience I could take home, a memory I could hold. Years & Years so acutely speaks to my constant state of longing and wanting. I always want more, more, more.

Years & Years started off their September 16 show with “Foundation.” The beginning of their debut album sets the tone for the dance party they are going to reign over. Communion is an album about want and desire, the latter a name of a track on the album. Communion—like the best pop records—is about love, loss, obsession, and sex. As the lights dimmed and strobes turned on, I downed the rest of my beer and threw my cup to the floor. I didn’t want anything inhibiting me. As Olly Alexander came out on stage, a force of boundless energy and long limbs and blinding smiles, I screamed into the lights, “And I wanna get older / All the things I want I really shouldn’t get…” I used to be shy about taking up space at shows, trying to contort my body as small as possible, make sure my purse wasn’t touching anyone, cautiously moving my hips but not enough to garner any real attention. I was afraid of being seen, mocked. I’m finally learning how to lose myself in the music, how that’s ok if not preferable. The sold-out crowd was immersed in every lyric. Thrashing along to the beat, lunging forward. “And your head looks so good / I wanna love it so much…” All of us understanding that all to familiar urge to drown oneself in someone new, “I wanna do what you love…” Years & Years hauntingly merges upbeat electronic beats with melancholy lyrics, the juxtaposition of uplift and disappointment constantly experiencing friction. The duality live was great. Olly reminds us of the reality of our expectations despite our adoration. The constant refrain throughout the night was our callback response of “ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhh.” It was like a dreamlike chant, all of us in the crowd wanting, needing, craving and freely admitting so.

Longing comes up again and again on Communion. Live it was fun to thrash, jump, and sing, “You tell me that you want me now / Is it desire / Or is it love that I’m feeling for you / I want desire…” It’s hard to listen to “Desire” and not think of the modern age of short-lived relationships and Tinder swiping. Is all we want desire? Do we know what love is anymore? Are we willing to find out? Olly was quiet throughout most of the night except from when he interjected, “If you’re here on a date now would be a good time to start hooking up.” The energy in the room palpably changed. Bodies moved a little closer, shook a little bit harder. We are a generation looking for “want.” This was never more apparent than on “Memo” when the crowd rose their voices along with Olly to exclaim, “I want more, I want more / I want more, I want more…”

As everything cracks and splinters on “Take Shelter,” I loved being held up by the audience as Olly sang, “I know I wanted far too much / Never thought I wouldn’t be enough…” I constantly feel like I want too much from people, and therefore I ask for nothing. I am so prepared, so deeply engrained with the belief that I need to be ready at any moment for the brush off. It was nice to seek sanctuary in the lyrics, to dance the loneliness away. “I’m not gonna tell nobody / I’m not gonna tell nobody ’bout you…”

“Gold” was beautiful live, an audience bathed in luminescent gold light singing, “I’m gonna be the one that sets it all alight…” The sense of agency and control. Pop music focuses on the exaltation and exhilaration, the powerful and defiant. Years & Years with “Gold” have written a track that echoes. We see the light, and the darkness within us all is momentarily transformed. I was blinded by strobe lights. I could only feel.

The show quieted down when Years & Years performed “Eyes Shut,” a personal favorite on the album. Olly sat at the piano, iPhone’s craned to get a picture of him poised with his fingers on the keys.

And nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut
I can see through them
I can see through them…

The audience was hushed. Everyone’s dance moves slowed. Eyes trained on Olly obscured in a halo of pink and blue lights. We stayed silent for “Without.”

You don’t belong to me, you’re too far away
And everything falls apart when I try to say

You’re enough
In love without me
So close your heart
You’ll never find me
Ooh you can hate me now
Cause I’ll be gone
And I’ll be with you or without…

Having relocated to Brooklyn this summer, I feel “Without” strongest. It’s been on my bedtime playlist for months. I objectively miss people, constantly. I just don’t know how to tell them. I understand Olly’s exclamation here that “Everything falls apart when I try to say…” As an English major, I love words. However, poetry taught me that sometimes the power is in the breaks, in the pauses, in the things left unsaid. Everyone I love is “too far away” and I often have to remind myself that they “don’t belong to me” anymore. Time will test the foundation of our relationship, but for now I have to allow us to experience life apart.

The show reaches its culmination with “Real.”

I think I’m into you
How much do you want it too
What are you prepared to do
I think I’m gonna make it worse
I talk to you but it doesn’t work
I touch you but it starts to hurt
What have I been doing wrong
Tell me what it is you want
Don’t know what it is you want…

Years & Years deals with the unknown, the tumultuous. There is very little steady ground. Young, reckless. They’re looking for answers, and sometimes, admittedly, in all the wrong places (people). Standing in a crowd of young twentysomething’s, I felt like we were all admitting we were lost. Tell me what it is you want / Don’t you know what it is you want…

These two girls in front of me turned to each other after Olly bounded off the stage, saying, “He can’t not play ‘King’! He can’t not play ‘King’!” I wanted to pull an Amy Winehouse and tell them there was no way Years & Years would leave the stage without playing their breakout hit. As Olly came back onto the stage to an ovation of hollers and shouts, he smiled, his arms out, and sang, “Let go, let go, let go of everything…” For an evening—as I rose my arms and swung my hips—I actually did.

HANSON

GOOD MORNING. HAPPY NEW MUSIC FRIDAY. I am going to turn it over to some beautiful talented ladies in just one second because they have actually written things which you should read, but I want to share a thing with you first that I have kept in my back pocket for years now like a tiny precious light that I can only take out every once in awhile when I am very very sad. And today I am not even sad, really, but Mercury is in retrograde (GO FUCK YOURSELF, MERCURY) and I forgot that I had Middle of Nowhere in my car CD changer and then it came on and I smiled the whole way to work and so you know what? I have decided it’s gonna be a good day and that means we’re gonna have this.

I assume that if you’re still reading witchsong by now you at least care a little about pop, and maybe a little about boy bands. At least a little. And I assume also that if that’s true, and if you’re around my age, that you at least know who the Hanson brothers are, tangentially if not like, directly, experientially. I don’t know if any of you really had any prolonged experience with them (post-MMBop, I mean), but I am here to tell you a thing: they are amazing. They have always been amazing and they are still amazing, and they are still making music! And it’s amazing! And Zac is 29 and he still spells his name Zac and he’s married but like, never say never, you know? (Here is a fun story: Once I won tickets to see Hanson in Washington, DC by correctly answering a trivia question the answer to which was “Zac Hanson” but I don’t remember the question and, much more importantly, I NEVER RECEIVED MY TICKETS and I am still very, very angry about that. I love Zac Hanson.) Anyway. This video is Hanson performing “Change in My Life” a cappella, which is something they apparently used to do backstage before shows to like, calibrate their harmonies, or whatever. All I know is that I have always loved this song and I have always loved Hanson and this is just a very good, very uplifting and soothing and affirming confluence of things that are good in this world. So. Happy Friday. We’re all gonna make it.

yes i hear we: a chattanooga punk fest diary

Do Ya Hear We Fest has been my most anticipated event of the year since the very first summer I stumbled into the punk scene in Chattanooga. All of our best local bands and the bands of friends in other cities, people who travel from all over the country, play over a span of 3 days at Sluggo’s and Ziggy’s (though some years the second venue has occasionally been other places, Ziggy’s is a conveniently located and spacious alternative, as well as a prime redneck karaoke destination). Everyone in town puts up everyone else, houses bursting with floor crashing friends/strangers/both, drinking until the sun rises. I learned early on to request the weekend off work plus the following Monday, a day which is reserved almost solely for suffering, and sometimes swimming, but mostly suffering. The whole thing is a tender mess of booze, friends (old and new), sweat, and music, and it’s my best and most treasured time. I’ve been to other small punk fests, and they’ve been fun, but none of them have ever had the big dysfunctional family feel of DYHW. There is no way I could cover all 30+ bands, but I kept a disjointed list of memorable moments in a nearly incoherent note on my phone, and that is going to serve as the template of my festival diary.

i friday

Homestrings opened the weekend; their vocalist Lou is among my favorite frontpeople, and I’ve nearly worn out my tape of her old band, so it was really exciting to see her all the way from California playing with local friends. I’m disappointed they’ll be a short lived thing, kind of like Concrete Bees who played the next day, whose drummer moved to Indiana and bassist is relocating to DC later this summer. The transience of punk bands is heartbreaking but makes for a unique approach to collective memory. Over time tapes and records dwindle in personal collections until they become rare treasures, like, “do you know anyone who has a copy of so-and-so’s old demo that I can dub?” It also makes for live shows to be a rare treat. One of Chattanooga’s most beloved bands, Hidden Spots, play rarely because their drummer lives, well, I’m not sure anyone knows, but not here. Possibly under a bridge demanding riddles from passers-by if we are judging by this horrific photograph I snapped during their set. Their shows are sporadic lately, so they’re all the more intense when they do play, because they’re a scene darling. But that wasn’t til Saturday.

Something else I love about Chattanooga punk is the omnipresence of women; our scene is notoriously not “PC,” known for being sometimes too wild, but there are always girls in bands, with no intentional effort to make that happen. They just are. I think about how remarkable that is all the time, but it really struck me watching Lou and Morgan and Megan open the festival, looking around at all the women dancing in front of the stage next to me. It’s not a struggle and it’s not an overtly feminist move; no one has to demand “girls to the front” to make it happen. They’re already up there. That’s really special to me.

The show moved along, sticking to a strict schedule. Early in the night our friend with a broken foot hovered at the edge of the crowd in a wheelchair. Yelling, “no one puts baby in a corner!” a friend wheeled her out front, the crowd clearing space for him to push her in frantic circles while she laughed. The band that was on, Dirty Kills, has a song that goes, “I just wanna get fucked up with you,” which someone named the theme song of fest, and nothing could be more accurate. Even with a broken foot, it’s the time to get fucked up with the ones you love.

Later, the Everymen armed the crowd with pool noodles and silly string, asking us to fight to the death. We obliged. After that mess, a few individuals braved sitting on the now beer-soaked floor for Anna Banana’s set, kind of a tradition for her, and a few of us sat on the stage. Her set is nearly a sing-a-long for a lot of us who have her records on constant rotation at home. “And while I try to drink the pain away, I still stay so thirsty,” rung out in stereo, sung emotively through her microphone and echoed by a hum of voices in the crowd. The energy ramped backed up with Divorce Horse, Arkansas wildasses always good for a super raucous time.

The next band was a favorite local of mine–even though they play all the time, I still get excited to see Basement Benders. They’re like a sampler of people cherry-picked from my favorite bands smashed together, writing songs about mental illness that make me wish there was a such thing as punk therapy. In “Voices” especially, I feel like Terry (of This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb fame) is singing from inside my own head.

Shellshag has closed out one of the nights of DYHW every year I’ve been, everyone crowded around their lit-up drum kit. I was just behind Shag, inches away from the signature sleigh bells strapped to her waist. The friend next to me reached out and gave them a tap, as if to add some sound of her own to the cacophony, a deafening chorus of, “fuck society! fuck sobriety! fuck….everybody!” rising from the throats of everyone in the room. At some point I caught sight of my 16 year old coworker bobbing in the crowd to my left, her head just barely level with the shoulders of most of the men standing there. I reached through the forest of sweaty limbs to pull her through and into the front to dance with us, her view unobscured. Solidarity is important, and even more important for me is helping teenage girls get the most out of punk shows, because they deserve it. Those experiences shape you; I would know.

*The last note in here just says, “dick moves,” and I can’t for the life of me figure out what that means. Someone gave me Fireball, passing back and forth a bottle far larger than I can believe they’d package that death syrup in, so we can easily settle on “it means you had too much Fireball and took bad notes.”

ii saturday

This is the day I was most hungover; I halfheartedly made a plate of eggs that got eaten by me and whoever else wanted them, and then we went to Waffle House because there isn’t one in St. Augustine where my houseguests hailed from. Someone hilariously got the world’s most disappointing cheese grits. Recuperating was slow but one perseveres because, what, are you gonna quit after day one? This was also the day that a number of the people staying with me were going to play, so admonitions of “don’t get too drunk too early” had some weight, at least for them. I think we tried not to, even though we ended up at a bar for some time.

I spent a lot of time going back and forth between Sluggo’s and my house (a good one minute trek across the street and through my backyard) to refill my bottle of whiskey punch, a huge vat of special house punch my roommate brewed up to share with our visitors. She came home from her job site in West Virginia just to go to the show that day, flowers in hand, knowing she’d have to leave on Sunday. That’s how crucial fest is, and how much she wanted to be here with us.

Big Kitty opened the show with their special brand of psych folk, a crowd favorite to tempt people to brave their hangovers and show up on time. I think it worked–the room filled in for their set, dance worthy country songs with a rock & roll setup. St. Augustine’s Early Disclaimers played next; I’ve seen them a few times, and their emotional alt rock recalls 90s influences and is without fault just fucking cool. They sold out of tapes. I got the last one Monday morning before they left, pried from the console of the SUV they’d rode up in; 2 of them had camped out in another yard, but set me up with their drummer and his friends to stay in my living room.

Sadly, the following band Concrete Bees are disbanding due to geography; I was ecstatic to see them cover “Vanilla Blue” at least one more time, my mom’s favorite song and by far my favorite local cover. During that song I tugged on my friend’s arm, hollering, “I never realized until I saw it that Eric Nelson covering Naked Raygun was all I ever wanted,” into his ear, to which he replied, “I know, and I can’t believe it hasn’t happened sooner.” Later that night I took a breather outside, feeling panicked about nothing, as happens in big crowds, and Eric sat down with me for a while. We talked about Chattanooga, about our little punk scene and the people here. We came to the conclusion that DYHW is more a state of mind than a specific time and place. The scene in Chattanooga evolved out of the magnetism of positivity; almost everyone is from somewhere else, and could live anywhere else, but they ended up here as though drawn together by their common desire for a certain kind of tender, intimate friendship, fostered by and celebrated in music and art. We’ve got something so special and unique, and when people come here they can feel it in their bones, especially if they’re like-minded. That’s what keeps people coming back to DYHW Fest, not just the music and the mountains, but the magic.

A few of the aforementioned boys staying at my house played in the band Dildozer, and they were the absolute most fun set of the weekend. With songs like, “The Bad Boys of Rock and Roll Are Douchebags,” their front man heckled his peers and heckled the crowd, heckled everyone really, with a pop punk appropriate amount of smudged eyeliner and black nail polish. “This song goes out to everyone who’s bad at their job, which is all of you, because you all suck, especially Eliza,” he introduced a song, calling out the doorwoman of the other Sluggo’s in Pensacola. It was silly but above all there was a good heart to it, and they definitely had mine when PJ introduced the aforementioned song with a dedication to girls who don’t go to punk shows anymore because their ex boyfriends performed shitty songs about them. Dildozer gets it, and I’m really glad they slept on the giant beanbag in my living room.

The rest of the night is blurry; I know I spent a lot of time outside talking and talking. Somehow I ended up front for Purple 7, delightful Bloomington pop punk that’s hard not to dance to, then watched Street Eaters from the bar, then ended up right up front again for Hidden Spots. I caught sight of a friend who’s almost never at punk shows (least of all directly in front–more of a “arms crossed in the back” kind of guy) bracing himself against the stage, decided I had to be up there with him, and by some kind of whiskey magic I had pressed through the crowd at its apex of thickness and was right beside him, emphatically singing along and crying freely over a dedication to dead friends. “Everybody Get Together” was the tearjerker of the night for sure. The headliner was Sexy, a long broken up Pensacola band who a lot of people claimed to me were “only coming to fest” to see, which I knew was a lie, but a flattering lie. I once gave their CD to my younger brother in an attempt to get him to care about punk, and he didn’t, but my choice of CD should give you an idea of how universally likeable they are. Everyone loves Sexy. And they were great, even with a last-minute replacement drummer, the perfect end to an emotional and long, very long, day.

iii. sunday

It took a long time to assemble a crew into caravans, but Sunday was the day we determinedly made it to the creek. Packed with whole hillbilly families, Suck Creek teemed with everything Chattanooga has to offer–sun, crawdads, cool green creekwater to belly flop into, gorgeous mountain views, and redneck dads hollering about snakes. Mostly we just sat half-submerged on rocks, talking shit and getting sun. We got 40s on the way home, Florida visitors eagerly asking for brown paper bags instead of plastic so they could get the “full experience,” because they don’t sell 40 ounce beers in the Sunshine State.

Sunday’s show featured a change of venue; we went down the street a little further to Ziggy’s Underground, a bar behind the neighborhood liquor store. The promise of a secret opener again lured attendees there at 5, though the secret had been spilled on handouts that had been on the bar at Sluggo’s; cherished defunct Chattanooga band ADD/C (not to be confused with Australian AC/DC cover band by the same name) was heralded to be there, and they were, though their drummer Skyped in, a very punk approximation of a holograph. During the following set, Mudsex’s drummer proposed to his girlfriend in front of everyone, their union having just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court only days earlier. Maybe public engagements are kind of universal, but this seems like a pretty good example of the kind of tenderness I prize.

Full disclosure–on Sunday I piled up outdoor chair cushions on the patio and tried to take a nap outside, which mostly ended in me trying to drink beer while lying down (difficult) while people talked to me anyway. There have been a couple years I didn’t even make it to Sunday, so my presence was a miracle in itself. That’s my excuse for not seeing every band.

Ziggy’s was having some issues with power during the middle of the show; this culminated in Folk Killer’s set being periodically interrupted by breaker flips. Propelled by drums alone, they forwent powerless guitars, their isolated vocal harmonies highlighted by the mishap. It was really great, honestly. I ducked out of the room for Sandal Stomp, memories of last year’s swollen knee after a circle pit incident too fresh to risk any hardcore accidents.

I remember rounding people up, telling them, “you have to go inside for the Bohannons–they’re one of Chattanooga’s best,” and I meant it completely. Their heavy rock & roll puts me in a trance, totally fixated on the sound. My best endorsement of them came later, when I somehow ended up at a friend’s house a block away drinking rum and taking stupid selfies, when I said, “I still wouldn’t ever do it–but the Bohannon’s made me understand headbanging. Like, I get it now.”

I returned in time to catch the end of Pretty Pretty and all of Vacation. Vacation has one of my favorite records; their fuzzy, noisy pop is exactly the kind music I want to listen to, and wish more people were making. I was fading fast by the time they went on, just barely hanging on for Benny and the Jet Rodriguez, whose set I know was fun but I barely remember. But before the closing set by local favorites Future Virgins, someone was iPod DJing through the speakers and people (primarily me, trying to stay awake) were dancing around the mostly empty room. Someone put on “Shake It Off,” and a second wind kicked in. My friends Leah, Heather, and I danced around the room and on top of benches, shaking it off for an audience of practically no one; I think most people fled at the first sugarcoated hint of Taylor Swift. We stayed, though, and whoever was in control of the music was so entertained by our enthusiasm that they kept it on repeat, and we danced for two, then three, then four consecutive “Shake It Off”s until someone turned it to something else, a cue for everyone to flood the showspace again in anticipation of the final band of the festival.

Future Virgins were intense; again the crowd knew every word, screaming it back at them like we were trying to make sure even god could hear. My thighs pressed against the stage with the weight of the crowd behind me, and I could feel bruises forming, so I relinquished my claim on the front row and fell back into the squirming mass of sweaty punks. The temperature rises about 20 degrees when you let yourself be engulfed by the swell; it takes some kind of dedication to make it through a whole set, but I was up to the challenge. I had earned it–I made it to the very end.

I think the weekend can be summed up in one moment, when a friend I had made that weekend leaned into my ear to compensate for the speaker next to us and scream-whispered, “do you want to promise to be friends for a very long time?” to which I beamed and did promise, “YES.” And then we danced. And what more is there?

at least you got the notion that i care: nana grizol at sluggo’s north

The first time I saw Nana Grizol was at Plan-It-X Fest in 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana. After a pretty trying weekend of couch crashing and awkward run-ins at a no-booze-allowed venue, I was so excited for my friends from Chattanooga to arrive in their tour van inevitably packed with coolers of beer. They did eventually, and may god bless Hamm’s and house shows, am I right? The night before, though, I was stone cold sober and bouncing around the company of people I only knew from the internet, most of whom I’d never met before. Even though a lot of my friends were really enthusiastically into Nana Grizol, I had never given them more than a passing listen. In this setting, a warehouse venue packed with sweaty folk punks in all manner of cutoff shorts, the stage was swarmed for their set. Intimidated by the strength of the crowd, I stood in the back of the room, barely making out what was going on onstage. All I could really do was listen. While Theo Hilton sang about positivity and friendship in a way that felt like he was personally chastising me for being a reclusive bummer (even though I know I am well loved, it’s hard to believe all the time) tears streamed down my cheeks that I couldn’t wipe off fast enough to pretend it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t name the songs I heard that night if I tried, or the lyrics, just the way they made me feel. I felt reminded of how much warmth and love I had available to me, and I felt inspired to take advantage of it, if not also mildly scolded. I loved it.

It’s been three years since then, and in that space of time I’ve become pretty familiar with their records. This time they played at my home bar, the one I just need to stumble through my backyard and across the street to get to. Sluggo’s North (sister Sluggo’s to the one in Pensacola) is where I spend the most of my time that is not inside my own house, which was a nice update of venue from “out of town somewhere I’ve never been where I’m not allowed to have a single alcohol.” The crowd was smaller and less intense, dense for the space but packed with people I know and love. I had some seasonal cider in my hands and my friend Angela in my ear going, “oh my god, I LOVE this!” So, ideal.

The matinee show went from starting at 6 to starting around, god, who knows, maybe 9. This was fine, in all honesty, because it gave me the flexibility to be an hour late and still have tons of time to catch up with friends. Nana Grizol is the kind of band that will draw out even the worst shut-ins, myself included, so there were a lot of people to see. By the time they went on, everyone was pleasantly buzzed and gleeful to be in good company, and already sweaty enough not to mind crowding together in front of the tiny stage. Hilton played barefoot between their impressive duo of drummers/trumpet players. The two of them traded off playing drums and brass, sometimes playing simultaneously. The band seemed so comfortable and happy onstage, drummers trading joyful looks while they concentrated on their concurrent beats, tuba player dancing and playing air guitar with his tuba between parts. The downside of being the sort of insistent person who wants to stand directly in front of the stage is that the sound is the worst there, so I couldn’t make out much of what Hilton was singing the same way I did from the back of the room in Indiana. It was a different experience. This time I already knew most of the words because I have the records, but I would have liked to have been able to be reminded live. This is mostly my own fault, drunk and dancing myself sore right in front of a monitor. It’s fine. No tears this time around. Instead of having an emotional breakdown by myself in an unfamiliar room, I was able to commune with people I love in mutual appreciation of music that was fun and meaningful. There were people to grab onto and wail, “I once had a lover, I don’t know if I’ll recover, but I know it was worth it.” And I know that was worth it.

I got a chance to tell Theo Hilton about my experience at PIX ‘12 while buying a tshirt after the Sluggo’s show, and when I went outside afterwards I was glowing from the experience so much that someone called me out. I was standing outside right outside the door, mind elsewhere, and a girl drew me back down to earth by exclaiming, “you look so happy right now!” I flushed, and the bassist of Nana Grizol who happened to be sitting behind her added, “you’re beaming!” I think I said something affirmative in response, but I don’t remember–I do know I covered my red face and blended into the crowd behind them in an attempt to disappear. I’m stuck on that word he used–beaming. Joy is so infectious, and the energy reverberating between the crowd and the band left me elated. When you’re so full of happiness that it feels like you’ve swallowed the sun and it’s escaping through all your pores, that’s how I feel after a really great show, and beaming is the best possible word for it. This was that kind of show. Here’s to many more nights of beaming.